Flipping The 'Burbs

[ Posted Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 – 17:53 UTC ]

That headline is quite obviously a pun on the phrase "flipping the bird," I will fully admit. But more on bird-flipping in a moment, though. Instead, let's begin with what inspired the pun in the first place: last night's off-off-year election results. The results for the 2019 election cycle are now (mostly) in, and what they show is that the big blue wave which arose in 2018 shows no signs of ebbing. Democrats not only won the governor's race in a state that Donald Trump won by 30 points back in 2016, but they also achieved the "trifecta" in Virginia, flipping both houses of the legislature in a single election (they already held the governor's office, completing the trifecta of one-party control). But the biggest news is how they achieved such gains, and the answer is -- as it also was one year ago -- that they flipped the suburbs that Republicans used to routinely count on as strongholds.

This does not bode well for the Republican Party, obviously. Some of them know this, but many are still -- at least publicly -- denying the new reality. They argue that they lost the Kentucky governor's race because their candidate was weak -- even though he governed and campaigned as a mini-Trump. Donald Trump himself led a rally in the final days of the campaign in the state, to no avail. This seriously dents the prowess of his coattails. Interestingly enough, he didn't even bother to hold a rally in Virginia, because Republicans there told him it would actually hurt their chances, not help them.

The magnitude of the swing cannot be overstated. Trump's margin of victory in Kentucky was his fifth-largest of any state he won in 2016. He got 63 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 33. But a Democrat just got elected governor there, even after Trump personally held a rally for the incumbent Republican governor. What was the key to this big flip? The suburbs. Most notably, the suburbs across the river from an Ohio city. That should be doubly worrisome for Republicans, when you think about it.

Admittedly, Kentucky was not exactly a normal race, so the lessons learned there might not be applicable everywhere. The sitting governor was massively unpopular, had made several Trump-style gaffes (such as trying to blame striking teachers for any crimes committed against children during the strike), and the Democrat running against him was running (at least partially) on a "dynasty" ticket, since his father was the previous Democratic governor of the state (who had served two terms and couldn't run for a third in 2015 due to term limits). Those are all rather special circumstances, to be sure. Also, the rest of the GOP ticket didn't do as bad -- the Republicans won the other five statewide races on the ballot. Even so, losing a 30-point advantage at the top of the ticket is still pretty remarkable.

But even if you set aside the Democratic victory in Kentucky, Democrats still had a very strong night and this was due to significant support in suburbs that have previously been solidly Republican. Call it the ongoing revolt of the "country-club Republican" wing of the party against Donald Trump, if you will. Democrats swept the Northern Virginia suburbs, easily picking up enough seats to flip both chambers of the state legislature. The turnaround in Virginia is stark -- Republicans have lost roughly a third of the seats they when Trump was elected. They used to have towering majorities, and now they're going to have to learn to live in the minority for at least the next two years. During that time, the Democrats will likely move on healthcare reform, gun safety laws, and perhaps even ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (which would set off an epic Supreme Court battle as to whether the amendment had officially been ratified or not, something I've previously written about).

Flipping Virginia to solid blue was not a sudden development. It was not due to one man (Trump) or any other single issue. It was the culmination of a long trend of the demographics of the state changing with the growth of the northern suburbs. In other words, it was almost inevitable -- if it hadn't happened last night, it surely would have happened in the next few election cycles. But again, the key to the big shift was the suburbs.

This was seen all over the map in the down-ballot races as well. The Philadelphia suburbs voted strongly Democratic, and by doing so flipped several county boards. This wasn't a matter of picking up a seat here or there, either -- Democrats absolutely swept the boards in many places, and made strong gains where they didn't totally dominate. The Philly suburbs are seen as not only a bellwether but in fact the deciding districts in the entire state. And President Trump only won Pennsylvania by a relative handful of votes. Democrats also flipped plenty of other local suburban races, even in deep-red places like Indiana. All due to a massive shift in the suburban vote.

Although there is scant exit polling from last night (it's generally not worth the effort to do so in off-off-year elections), this shift is almost certainly due to suburban women turning en masse away from the Republican Party of Donald Trump. These women used to vote Republican so that their family's taxes would be lower, but they have now become so fed up with the misogyny, bigotry, and xenophobia emanating from the Oval Office that they are voting blue instead, to send the Republican Party a big message.

One other conclusion worth making from last night's election results is that gun safety reform is no longer the "third-rail issue" it once was. Mass shooting after mass shooting has been eroding the political power of the National Rifle Association (together with their own internal civil war that they've been waging), and it is no longer toxic for Democrats to strongly campaign on commonsense reforms like universal background checks or red flag laws. Virginia's gun laws used to be so notoriously lax that there was a pipeline of people who would drive down from New York City (and other localities with stricter gun laws), load up their car's trunk with guns, and then drive back and sell them on the street. When Virginia's Democratic governor called a special session of the legislature to revamp their gun laws, the Republicans adjourned it within 90 minutes, in contempt of the idea. That's about to change in a big way, since Democrats across the state ran on tightening the commonwealth's gun laws. This will probably be one of the first bills they put on the governor's desk next year, in fact. And it's a proven winner with suburban women voters.

If the big blue wave continues to rise over the next year, then Democrats could be looking at the chance for an absolute blowout. While House members may live in comfortably gerrymandered districts, those in the Senate have to run statewide. And most states have a significant population in their cities' suburbs. Even red states. States like Kentucky.

Democrats have built their big blue wave on flipping the 'burbs in state after state after state. In fact, they are well on their way to erasing the losses at the state gubernatorial and legislative levels that they suffered while Barack Obama was president (when roughly 1,000 such seats were flipped by the GOP). They've still got a long way to go to get back to their former strength, but both Democratic voters and Democratic donors are paying a lot more attention to all the down-ballot races these days. And it is paying off in a big way, most notably by flipping the 'burbs.

Which brings me back to the most amusing news from last night. Last year, a woman was photographed "flipping the bird" to Donald Trump's motorcade as they were driving away from his Virginia golf club. Her name is Juli Briskman, and she paid a heavy price for that photo, since she lost her job as a direct result. But now she's got a new job: county supervisor. She ran for a seat on the county board and won. The best part? Trump's golf course is within her district. So the next time she feels the urge to flip Trump off, she will not be fired -- because the people who live next to Trump's golf course just voted her into office. The moral of this story is: Sometimes all it takes to flip the 'burbs is to blatantly flip Trump the bird. Because that's exactly how millions of suburban voters are feeling right now.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


20 Comments on “Flipping The 'Burbs”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: Interestingly enough, he didn't even bother to hold a rally in Virginia, because Republicans there told him it would actually hurt their chances, not help them.

    Ha ha ha ha hee hee *spews coffee on keyboard*

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Nice closer about Ms. Briskman!

    Your chipper analysis of the oncoming Blue Wave in 2020 due to the defection of GOP suburban women is welcome after reading the NY Times' latest piece about how Trump can win in 2020. According to the survey they report on, there are about 9% of voters in six swing states who are actually 'undecided'. They could, it is said, still actually vote either way, depending on the Democratic candidate and how the issues of the day unfold in the coming year. If they vote for Trump, he gets the electoral votes and wins even while being swamped in the national popular vote.

    The weird thing is the survey was only about 900 people across six states. That gets down to 150 per state, and 9% of them being 'undecided' is about 13 people per state. Then the paper talked about how the undecided women (6 of them?) and the undecided blacks/minorities (1 or 2 of them?) all thought, in detail, about all the outstanding issues and the leading Dem candidates.

    In other words, in your view millions of GOP women are defecting and leading the Dems to a massive victory in 2020. In the New York Times' view, a few thousand women, represented in the sample by half a dozen women in half a dozen states, will decide the election - and they don't hate Donald Trump and they don't like any of the Dems except maybe Joe Biden.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris (from yesterday),

    Hey, I grew up next door to VA, and I'm pretty astonished at the changes it has gone through of late, personally. It used to be dominated by the backwoods vote, but no longer...

    This points up one of those lessons all Democrats can learn from Virginia that I was asking about in your last column, Watching Virginia's Returns.

    What has brought about those astonishing changes you say have happened of late?

    I just came across this piece in the NYTimes written by a progressive in Virginia who has been working tirelessly and relentlessly over the last many years building relationships with voters across the state that made it possible to elect Democrats to the state senate and house.

    Democrats need to reach out to voters in every corner of each state and not just during election campaigns, win or lose.

    I hope it's not too late for 2020!

  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:


    "The weird thing is the survey was only about 900 people across six states. That gets down to 150 per state, and 9% of them self identify as 'undecided' is about 13 people per state."

    That's not an unusually small sample size, and gives a typical +/- 3% theoretical margin of error...which just the inherent sampling error in a population which won't/can't be sampled again. The fact that only 9% of the population self identified as "undecided" is what it is. It doesn't imply everybody else is firmly committed to a particular candidate right up until election day...or that they make to the polls.

    The fact that this poll got written up in the NY Times simply reflects the fact that columnists have deadlines and need to write about something.

    I'm of the opinion that ALL US elections are wave elections. Most states are strongly tilted Blue or Red. Only a rogue wave can divert their electoral votes from Blue to Red or Red to Blue. I think most pollsters and political scientists agree with this. Trump got lucky and caught a red wave. He was as surprised as anybody.

  5. [5] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Surprise! Turns out that being an asshole is worse than being a republican. NOW Trump is worried!

  6. [6] 
    Paula wrote:

    Between the horror of election-night 2016 followed by the assault on everything good about America that this administration has subjected us to, old Dems, new Dems, maybe Dems, etc. got the message that Dems had to swarm the field of play to turn things around.

    I came to this blog years ago in a state of simmering dissatisfaction with the Dem party. I have never been attracted to the GOP because I disagree with what they claim to stand for and even more so what they actually stand for. The Democratic Party's "values" are much more in line with mine but institutionally Dems were blowing it. CW was writing talking points that I wanted to be able to hammer into Dem leaders who seemed constitutionally incapable of fielding persuasive arguments or going on offense. Year after year Republicans grew more abusive and Dems more enabling and the political blogosphere grew as a result.

    When Howard Dean commenced the 50-State strategy in 2005 I was thrilled. It paid off in 2006 but then it lost steam as key Dem leadership retreated back to a swing-state-focus. That was maddening. That lesson should have been fully absorbed then, but it took a decade of Dem back-pedaling and increasingly virulent GOP obstruction, culminating in Blotus, for Dems to internalize the need to contest every race and to build institutions that outlast individual election years.

    And it took the Women's March, Indivisible, and the spontaneous rising of activists nationwide to ram home another realization: Dem party needed to harness the energy of grass-roots activists. The synergy began to happen - activists pushed the leadership - leaders began responding to Blotus/GOP more forcefully, giving the rank and file motivation to fight and resist and support Dem leaders who did so.

    And Dems began to rise up from all corners and run for offices.

    Blotus is a great motivator for Dems. My hope is that the energy on the Dem side - the appetite to serve in public offices of all sizes, doesn't drop too much after that scourge is gone. Because, like the vampires they are, Repubs may be forced to ground for awhile, but a few drops of blood will revive them unless people are metaphorically on the watch, hammers, stakes & holy water at the ready.

  7. [7] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Paula [7] 2nd para.

    When you're not doing anything important, recap for me what it is you feel the two parties actually do "stand for". Thanks.

  8. [8] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Paula is right about one thing: Democrats have always had a reputation for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I'd like to think that we've changed, but the way we dropped the Mueller ball doesn't give me hope.

  9. [9] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Then again, Trump seems to be just the motivator that the Democrats need, which, when you think about it, is humorous on more than one level.

    When Republicants get beat in 2020, they have only themselves to blame.

  10. [10] 
    Paula wrote:

    [8] Stucki:

    Quick and dirty: Dems stand for people first and honor the intrinsic value of human beings. They believe in diversity; they believe in equality of people and equality before the law. They believe in the law, in good government, in using government to better the lives of citizens. They believe in honesty. They believe in separation of church & state and checks and balances. They believe in protecting the weak from abuse by the strong. They believe in human rights. They believe in education. They accept responsibility and try to improve. They try to develop/enact policies that accurately reflect their stated values. They believe in progress.

    Do they uphold all these values perfectly? No. Dems are human; Dem leaders fail, have failed etc. But that's the starting point.

    The GOP believes in an aristocracy - with them as the aristocrats and everyone else as serfs. Repubs believe might = right. They believe they deserve power and are willing to do anything to get it and keep it. They are abusive. They believe THEY have rights; non-repubs don't. They hate and fear diversity. They value money over people. They consider people not-like-them expendable/disposable. They embrace dishonesty and cheating as means to maintaining power. They support "authority" without checks. They use "Christianity" to control and fool the rubes who's votes they need to maintain a veneer of "democracy" when they'd really prefer fascism if they're in the driver's seats. (They lie about EVERYTHING related to abortion.) They refuse responsibility for their own acts or for damage caused by their policies. They don't like education/critical thinking - stupid people are easier to fool & control. They are nativists and white supremacists. They try to develop & enact policies that enrich the rich and dis-empower everyone else, with special emphasis on dis-empowering POC, LBGTQ folks, women, non-Christians. They prefer mythical pasts to positive futures.

    Are there "good" Republicans? Sure, there are individuals who are decent, honest, etc. But they bow to leaders who are not. They vote for leaders who are not.

  11. [11] 
    Paula wrote:

    Pew Research Center
    The share of Americans saying colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the U.S. has increased by 12 points since 2012. The increase in negative views has come almost entirely from Republicans and Republican leaners

  12. [12] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Paula [11]

    Well stated, and much appreciated. You do come across as more than a little biased (to be expected naturally, folks from the other side would be the same) and I wish there were a good way to take some of those concepts beyond the abstract, and get more into the realm of how they actually translate into practice in the real world.

    You realize of course that you could never get ANYBODY, Rep or Dem, to admit to not "believing in education"!

    I'm intrigued by your take on how they (both groups) feel about "diversity". Do you think the Dem's embrace of diversity includes diversity of thoughts and diversity of ideas, or only diversity of skin color?

  13. [13] 
    Paula wrote:

    [13] Stucki: I think Dems DO embrace diversity of ideas and thoughts. However, they also realize that some concepts, posing as "thoughts" are actually violence-in-disguise, like white supremacy.

    Further, thoughts & ideas need not be entertained or taken seriously when they're malicious and/or based on falsehoods. Intellectual honesty is required.

    Finally, Dems enter into uncharted waters where Repubs refuse to go. Dems are grappling with white privilege, for example, and MeToo - both areas that are intensely delicate and difficult to navigate. They make for some unpleasant encounters and often uncover other hidden biases, etc. - people aren't perfect, justice can be murky, we all operate with assumptions we're not even aware we have. But over time we make progress.

    I don't claim we're a bunch of saints over here on the left - we're not perfect and we get just as invested in turf and our own grievances as do Repubs. Those are human failings all experience. But I think we try to muddle through them and we try to live our beliefs.

    And I think, broadly speaking, we are more free to explore ideas and ourselves in ways that are prohibited on the right, causing a lot of repression over there, which leads to many bad outcomes.

  14. [14] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    But should you ever decide to actually cover reality instead of shilling the two party (that is actually one) big money deception feel free to use my clever play on words from yesterday's comments:

    "Yes, Virginia, there is a Satan Clause."

    I'll cut right to the chase and address reality, Don. No matter how much you believe it in your tiny little brain and no matter how many times you type it out on this forum (and then claim like a moron afterward that you never meant it): There are two major parties in America that aren't "actually one," and there is nothing whatsoever clever about your continued ignorance regarding that fact.

  15. [15] 
    Kick wrote:


    Surprise! Turns out that being an asshole is worse than being a republican. NOW Trump is worried!


  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:


    Paula is right about one thing: Democrats have always had a reputation for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I'd like to think that we've changed, but the way we dropped the Mueller ball doesn't give me hope.

    Please see Appendix D (heavily redacted) beginning on page 443 of the report at the link below and rest soundly in the knowledge that the "Mueller ball" rolls on.

  17. [17] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Re your [11] generous response to my request for an explanation of what you feel the parties "stand for", or what it is that differentiates them, allow me to share a response I got many yrs ago from a former U.S. senator.

    His (substantially more succinct and less detailed) explanation ran as follows: "Reps/Cons grant you total freedom to do as you want to with your money, but they seek control over what you are permitted to do with your body. Dems/Libs grant you total freedom to do anything you wish with your body, but they seek control over what you do with your money."

    Any thoughts? Thanks in advance.

  18. [18] 
    Paula wrote:

    [18] Stucki:

    I think the construction you offered is flawed because it wants to create a perfectly balanced opposition - black vs. white, no grey.

    The key word in there is "control" and a more accurate set of statements would be:

    Repubs/CONS want total freedom to do what they want with THEIR money, unconstrained by law or morality.

    Repubs/CONS want control over other people's bodies - not mere control over how people use their own bodies. There's a good block of CONS who want to be able to molest others with impunity. Some of them literally want to be allowed to have slaves. They want to be able to force women to bear children.

    Republicans want control.

    Democrats want as much freedom as possible for people within the limitations imposed by cooperation. Dems recognize that functioning societies depend on a degree of willingness by members to moderate self-interest to benefit the group. Cooperation includes the sharing of resources. Democrats favor reasonable sharing of resources.

    The notion that Dems want to control how others spend their money is incorrect. Dems recognize that collective uses of money is the best way to deal with certain aspects of society. The arguments erupt about WHICH and TO WHAT EXTENT. Both Rs & Ds agree the nation's defense should be handled collectively. But Rs dispute the notion that healthcare should be handled collectively. Etc.

    Dems believe in live and let live so long as no one's "living" actively hurts another's. Where the lines are isn't always clear - Dems accept the existence of grey areas and changing views. Repubs resist both.

    Repubs want control over others and "freedom" for themselves, including freedom from responsibility. Repubs embrace force to impose their control.

    Dems want freedom for all within the limitations imposed by the collective good. The Dem concept accepts responsibility because it recognizes human choice is required and with choosing comes responsibility for choices made.

    I can't bring it down to a couple of simple sentences beyond: Republicans/CONS want control; Dems/Libs/Progs want as much individual freedom as a functioning society can sustain.

  19. [19] 
    Paula wrote:

    An area I struggled to discuss effectively - Repubs want control over their money - but they want to be able to control how others spend money if other people's spending negatively impacts them.

    For instance, Repubs argue for states rights - but then Repub state legislators overturn efforts by citizens to create things like cooperative internet access because it impacts cable companies and phone companies. So Repubs will overturn (and they have in multiple cities around the country) citizen will by force if they don't like it.

    So again, Repubs want freedom to spend for themselves, but not those who want to spend differently.

  20. [20] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Thanks again. I think your last part (Reps "overturning efforts by citizens . . .) only applies to public (taxpayer) money, not to private money.

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